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November 4, 2009

Viewer's guide: Some to be left out in cold

As the temperature drops, so do national title and conference contenders. It's likely that a few more teams hoping to remain relevant fall this week.

LSU has just one loss, but the Tigers must beat Alabama to remain in contention in the SEC West in the only matchup between top-10 teams. In the Big Ten, Ohio State and Penn State meet in a game with BCS implications. While Penn State already has lost to Iowa, the Buckeyes can win the Big Ten by defeating the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes in back-to-back weeks.

Teams from two much-maligned divisions - the ACC Atlantic and the Big 12 North - face what likely are must-win games if they hope to reach their conference championship games. Clemson and Florida State meet in the ACC Atlantic, with Clemson hoping to stay atop the division. The Seminoles are trying to stay alive in the division race. Meanwhile, Nebraska plays host to Oklahoma, and the Huskers are trying to keep pace in the Big 12 North.

Here's a look at the top five games for Saturday, along with breakdowns of important nationally televised games Thursday and Friday.

All times Eastern.


When: 3:30 p.m., CBS.
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst.
Line: Alabama by 9.
Why you should watch: While Florida has clinched the SEC East, the SEC West is up for grabs. LSU's only loss of the season came to the Gators on Oct. 10, but the Tigers have defeated only one team with a winning record (Auburn). While defense and interceptions thrown by Jarrett Lee were a problem for LSU last season, the Tigers can't find a way to run the ball this season. LSU is 10th in the SEC in rushing, and though LSU has some of the most highly touted players at their positions (RB Charles Scott, WR Brandon LaFell and OT Ciron Black) in the league, the Tigers are last in total offense in the SEC. That's not good heading into a game against Alabama's defense, which is rested after a bye week. The Crimson Tide also have question marks on offense: QB Greg McElroy has completed only 51.8 percent of his passes for 357 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns in the past three games.

When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN2.
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst.
Line: Penn State by 3.5.
Why you should watch: Iowa has a spotless record, but Ohio State and Penn State still have a chance to win the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions must win out and have Iowa lose twice. If Ohio State wins this game, the Buckeyes will play for a share of the title and a trip to the Rose Bowl when they play host to Iowa next week. Either way, the winner of this game looks like it will have to prevail in a defensive struggle. Penn State and Ohio State rank first and second in the Big Ten, respectively, in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense and pass defense. Penn State's offense seems to be hitting its stride. Daryll Clark has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 791 yards and six touchdowns in the past three games. Evan Royster is averaging 6.1 yards per carry over the same span. While Ohio State's offense has recovered since the disastrous loss at Purdue, Terrelle Pryor remains a question mark. He is 24-for-48 in his past two games, against Minnesota and New Mexico State.

When: 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net.
Broadcasters: Barry Tompkins play-by-play, Petros Papadakis analyst.
Line: Oregon by 5.5.
Why you should watch: Oregon will have to guard against a letdown after routing USC 47-20 last week. In 2007, the Ducks beat back-to-back top-10 opponents in USC and Arizona State, only to lose at Arizona the following week to fall out of national title contention. Of course, Dennis Dixon was lost for the year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in that game against the Wildcats. Oregon's offense is performing at a similar clip as it was in '07 behind quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LaMichael James. Running back LeGarrette Blount, suspended since punching a Boise State player after the 19-8 loss in the opener, could return for the Ducks, but they might not need him at this point. James has rushed for 489 yards and has averaged 8.3 yards per carry over the past four games. Stanford is seeking bowl eligibility for the first time since 2001, but finishes the regular season with four consecutive top-25 teams: No. 8 Oregon, No. 12 USC, No. 20 California and No. 22 Notre Dame.

When: 7:45 p.m., ESPN.
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst.
Line: Clemson by 8.5.
Why you should watch: While Georgia Tech is running away with the ACC Coastal, the Atlantic Division is still up for grabs. One game separates Florida State, Clemson, Wake Forest and Boston College. This could be one of the swing games in the race. A Clemson win would all but clinch the division for the Tigers, who have remaining games at home against N.C. State and Virginia. A Florida State loss would end any realistic chances for the Seminoles to win the division. It also would throw into question Florida State's bowl chances. Scoff at the ACC - especially this division - if you want, but this game will be entertaining thanks to two dynamic playmakers. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder fought through a rib contusion to lead the Seminoles to a 45-42 victory over N.C. State. Ponder has accounted for at least 300 yards of total offense in each of the past four games. Clemson tailback C.J. Spiller played sparingly in a laugher against Coastal Carolina, but he's just two weeks removed from accounting for 310 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in an upset of Miami.

When: 8 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan.
Broadcasters: Ron Franklin play-by-play, Ed Cunningham analyst.
Line: Oklahoma by 6.
Why you should watch: The former Big 8 rivals meet for only the seventh time during the regular season since the formation of the Big 12 in 1996. The six combined losses between the Sooners and Huskers (both are 5-3) this season is their highest loss total since the Big 12's inaugural season, when 6-1 Nebraska beat 2-5 Oklahoma 73-21. This isn't a high-profile Nebraska-Oklahoma game, but it's still important. Oklahoma's chances to win the Big 12 South are slim, but the Huskers remain very much in contention for the North title. Both teams have had to turn to freshman quarterbacks, with redshirt freshman Landry Jones replacing the injured Sam Bradford and true freshman Cody Green likely replacing the ineffective Zac Lee. Oklahoma's maligned offensive line will face one of the best defensive tackle duos in the nation. Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick combined for six sacks and nine tackles for loss against Baylor last week. Meanwhile, Nebraska tailback Roy Helu faces the nation's third-ranked rush defense.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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